Mr & Mrs Smith: innovation with old ideas

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Just in time to circumvent criticism toward the addition of non-skippable adverts to their subscription service, Amazon Prime has released Mr and Mrs Smith (2024). The show is a modern adaptation of the 1996 television series of the same name, although the title more famously belonged to the 2005 film starring Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. I recently attempted to watch the film in anticipation of this series, although I didn’t finish it as the writing made me care so little about the characters’ relationship. In the film, Mr and Mrs Smith are a married couple, both hiding the fact that they work in espionage from the other. Even though Pitt and Jolie eventually married, I saw no sign of chemistry between the characters, so I was simply uninterested in whether their secrets were revealed. Fortunately, Amazon Prime’s 2024 series avoids many of the pitfalls of its predecessor through clever writing and brilliant performances.

Unlike the 2005 film which follows a couple firmly comfortable, if not a bit lazy, in their marriage, the 2024 series follows a man (Donald Glover) and woman (Maya Erskine) who meet through a government agency. They’re assigned new identities, John and Jane Smith, husband and wife, which they use to perform military espionage. Across episodes the two embark on secret missions set in diverse locations ranging from the back alleys of New York to the gorgeous Lake Como in Italy. While the marriage is legally binding, it is completely up to the two of them whether they want their relationship to be platonic or romantic. This premise evokes far greater interest in the two leads, largely because you get to see their relationship blossom and change in unexpected ways. Watching a newly formed relationship paired with the high stakes of government espionage makes each episode thrilling and engaging, as their perceptions of each other change with each new morally grey task. Heavy emphasis is placed on the central relationship, while the show has quite a few side characters many of them only appear a couple times. Although these characters aren’t given a great deal of time, they never fail to leave a lasting impression thanks to the fact that they are played by some of the greatest talents working today like: Ron Pearlman, Paul Dano and Michaela Coel to name a few.

I was surprised to learn that my favourite episode, the finale, was directed by Donald Glover himself

Not only is there a great deal of talent in the cast list, but also the writers’ room and director’s chair. The first two episodes were directed by Hiro Murai. Glover and Murai have worked together on some of their best projects like the FX show Atlanta (2016), Amazon Prime’s original film Guava Island (2019) (which co-starred Rhianna) and many of Glover’s music videos. The two have developed a style together which is great to see return in this project. Although I’m not as familiar with the work of Karena Evans, Christian Sprenger or Amy Seimetz, each brought an equally astounding level of quality behind the camera on each episode they directed. Although, I was surprised to learn that my favourite episode, the finale, was directed by Donald Glover himself. The final episode must have been extremely difficult for him considering how much work he would have been doing in front of and behind the camera, especially since the episode contains some of the shows best action choreography and practical effects.

Whilst Donald Glover did a terrific job creating the show, his co-star Maya Erskine deserves a great deal of praise in matching Glover’s performance and elevating their characters’ relationship through her nuanced performance. Whilst Erskine is no stranger to the silver screen, this is one of her first big budget leading roles, and she did a terrific job bringing her slightly sociopathic character to life with a great deal of charm and wit. Her performance is extremely malleable, with her behaviours and body language directed towards her co-lead varying greatly across the show as their relationship progresses, and as the audience sees more sides to her. Furthermore, Erskine and her stunt team delivered some extremely memorable action choreography that made her character not only likable, but a little scary in the best way possible.

The only criticism I could possibly weigh against the show is its pacing. Since the series is limited to just eight episodes as of writing this review, the show develops Mr and Mrs Smith’s relationship a great deal off screen. Sometimes it can feel as though the relationship has changed a great deal in a short amount of time, which sometimes feels a little unrealistic. Although, this might not be as unbelievable as John Smith being used as a real alias for a spy.

Ultimately, Glover’s show does a terrific job of exploring how the deceit and immorality of espionage might affect those working in the field, especially when working with their significant other. I recommend this series to any fan of drama, action, and even dark humour. Although we are still early into 2024, this show will likely be remembered as one of the best that this year has to offer.

Image credit:  Amazon Prime Video

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